Sabbath

Most of us carry the dream of the ideal place to live. I do. I would love to live in a historic house, refitted with modern amenities, on a quiet tree-lined street, with a great coffee shop and a serious used book store within walking distance. Build a second floor library with a big window that overlooks the street, and put that house in a quiet Victoria, BC neighbourhood, and we have a deal. My ideal place. Do you think about such things? I would be willing to bet that you do. But as much as we think about ideal place, I wonder if as many of us think about ideal time. Sure, we wish we could slow down the pace of life a little, feel less pressured, less hurried. We all crave more free time to do the kinds of things we love to do. But beyond that, how do you conceive of ideal time? Is there such a thing?

What Chris talked about this past Sunday -- the practice of Sabbath -- is perhaps one of the most important formational tools we could talk about in a community of Christian faith. I encourage you to listen again to the podcast. To learn to live differently in time is one of the most important ways we learn to experience the holy, to encounter sacredness, to hallow the moments and days and people we encounter in life’s journey. To learn the wisdom of Sabbath is to begin to learn the meaning of time. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, TNIV).

There is a difference conceptually between holiday and vacation. The words seem synonymous to us, but it might be helpful to distinguish them once again. Holiday is “holy day”, time set apart for reverence, for spiritual re-creation. Vacation, by contrast, is an emptying, a vacating of place and responsibility. Holiday (holy day) is fullness, presence, attention, remembering, wonder and worship. Vacation is emptying, leaving, forgetting, allowing the taught rope of daily responsibility to go slack for a while . I think we need both. But Sabbath as a re-creating encounter with God as living presence is perhaps glaringly absent from our practice. Few of us realize how deeply restful this can be. Sabbath is not merely a day off; it is the weekly rehearsal of our hope: “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ is still there for God's people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we'll surely rest with God." (Hebrews 4:9-10, MSG).

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic, The Sabbath, makes the case that “the Bible is more concerned with time than with space”. He says that we spend our time chasing down the things that can fill our spaces, and actually learn to dread time. In our culture we have come to see time as our enemy, something we have to manage. But the goal of spiritual living, says Heschel, is to face sacred moments, to encounter the presence of God in time. If we do this well, we learn to see the reality of the eternal, the source of true livingness.

If you would like to chase down the Biblical understanding of time, and perhaps begin to live in time in a way that redeems and transforms, you might need to do a little reading. I recommend Heschel’s book of course, but it may be a little challenging for some. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, has written The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Bobby Gross, a campus minister, has written Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. I have recently reviewed both of these books and find them excellent guides to what we call the Christian calendar.

The shift in your thinking about time won’t come quick and easy, but with sustained attention and practice you will begin to realize that by living differently in time you become more aware of the divine presence. With practice, your days become less a drudgery, more sacred and filled with wonder, more peaceful and joyful. This is, after all, how we prepare ourselves for God’s eternal and timeless city. The irony is that by seeking God in time, he brings us to his ideal place.

This weekend is Father’s Day. Hope to see you at 9:29 or 11:11 am.

Bob Osborne